Verena Stefanie is the Italian photographer behind Kids Of Grime, an original port of documentation for the UK underground grime music scene. Verena got into photography as a hobby while studying Fashion Marketing and Communication in Barcelona. It was after moving to London for a job at Vivienne Westwood that she was introduced to the grime scene. She was soon completely enamored, spending breaks at work trolling the internet for any information she could find about grime culture, but was surprised at how little documentation there was. She saw her opportunity to give grime a platform through photography. She quit her job at Vivienne Westwood and began attending every event she could, from shows to studio sessions to afternoon hangouts with MCs just to get to know them and their work. Her work has now been shown in three exhibitions in both London and Italy, and has been featured in magazines from VICE Mag Spain to GQ Italy. The Kids Of Grime website has become a mainstay platform for promotion of the music and the UK scene with plans this year to feature more artists from around the world.
M.I.S.S. caught up with Verena Stefanie for an exclusive interview on photography, inspiration, and being a nice girl in a gritty scene.
1. What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
A part from my mom and granma, errm, I’ve never had this question asked before but what I really think is I don’t have to look too far away to know it. People around me, in my life, are who inspire me everyday. Talented and ambitious women such as Kara Messina from Y’OH streetwear, Beatrice Alessio, music journalist, Sian Anderson, Chantelle Fiddy, journalists and PR, Cecilia Marin and Diana SPAGHETTO video directors, Virginia, a real go-getter and my friend Abuk. I like females with balls you know that’s why I always try to be surrounded by female friends like that and representing the do-it-yourself and go-and-get-it. People with a lot to say and things to do, who knows what they want, always excited about new projects and especially never scared to fail or to get involved.
2. How did you get your start as a photographer?
When I was younger I liked to take pictures, a lot. Catch a moment in a still image that says 1000 words and lasts forever. Beautiful. I was a bit shy so it was difficult for me to always be around with the camera. But I did. I started a project called ‘Appeal to the eye’ back in 2005 when I was living in Barcelona. It was about documenting the style and look of a city, people in the streets, in clubs, more a fashion documentation, was just for a personal interest and because I was working for Diesel as cool hunter. It was at the beginning of the fashion blog street styles trend. I went to Vienna, for a project on the city and had an exhibition there which had been an amazing experience. But the day I decided I wanted to wake up and take pictures EVERY day and get paid for it was during a photo shoot assisting James Pearson-Howes in London. I said to myself: ‘This is what I want to do, this is what I am going to do’.
3. What was it about the Grime scene that piqued your interest? How did the Kids of Grime project come about?
The main thing is that there was NO documentation when I started it. All the photographers that did it were already on to something else, or just been in the scene for a short period. There was a lack in this era, which had a lot to give from it. But especially was my curiosity of knowing much more about it. I checked out some videos of Dizzee Rascal from back then and completely fell in love with that guy, his slang (which was really difficult to understand), his style, his face and his posse, especially from the video Graftin’. It was a completely new world to me, coming from a different culture (Italian born). And even if Grime has been alive for the last 10 years, everything was completely new to me and to countries outside UK, such as Spain and Italy.
4. What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?
If you talking about Kids Of Grime project (as I’m a photographer not just about grime) I would say the one that I haven’t taken yet but if I have to choose (which is difficult to pick just one) and I’m really strict with my pictures and severe with my photography, I would say D Double E wearing Bluku Bluku T shirt, not for the picture itself but for what it meant to me to take THAT picture. Also the one of MAXSTA, smoking weed in a field in his area. Difficult picture to take now as the kid got signed with a major label (sonyrca – justjam). I like the ones of P Money in studio with the tags Kids Of Grime graffiti style background, because he is totally himself there, caught him smiling. One of the latest I love is the one of Piff Gang, they are not Grime though, but the group picture is so simple but so strong at the same time. I’m happy with it.
5. Who do you want to work with?
I would love to have more collaborations with Spaghetto (we have worked already together) and also for XXL and VIBE printed issues (worked for online already), my goal for 2012. At the moment I just want to focus on my photography and video filming, I’m working with a good team, of people and friends, especially with my friend and colleague Cecilia Marin, who’s doing the editing of the videos. We are trying to get bigger and get more quality stuff out there. Obviously if in photography I can be the next big ‘Terry Richardson’, I would be glad. Meaning getting my ‘grimey’ style of pictures and work in big productions and fashion too. Would like to collaborate with brands with street philosophy edge, such as Vans, Supreme, Stussy, Carhartt etc. brands that have been in my life since ever. Worked for Y’OH streetwear already and it has been such a good experience, that I hope to live again.
6. What is your goal with Kids of Grime? How far do you want to take the project?
Kids Of Grime as photographic documentary about the grime scene in UK will have its goal once I’ll have had exhibition around the world, the book published and get more and more people into this music and culture. But it won’t take a couple of years as I think a proper good documentation will take at least 5 years to have a nice view on it. Plus, the magic of the pictures will be appreciated once the good times are gone.
But from another side Kids Of Grime is evolving in something bigger. The webpage is now a platform for promotion of the Urban scene, and Underground culture, music-fashion wise. The webpage will be re-designed for 2012 with much more quality content regarding not only music, but with fashion and life style topics as well. A culture and movement not just a blog about music if you get what I mean.
7. What part of documenting a music scene is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
The most challenging part of it is trying to understand a culture that is completely different from yours, It’s like learning a new language. I’m challenged myself I’ve done things, went to places that I never thought I could go, and alone, just to get the perfect picture and documentation. In the music industry especially here regarding the grime scene what I don’t really like is when MCs let the ‘fame’ go straight to their heads. It’s easy to get them fooled by some popularity and some tunes played on radio and then behaving like they are some kind of Jay Z, which it takes longevity and a lot of hard work before getting to the point of feeling famous, which will never give the right to act with no manners. Fame is something that can be misunderstood easily. But what I think is that time will say. And to always remember where you come from.
8. Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in photography?
The advice is always the same, but because they are the ones that count. Always use your heart, and do what you enjoy most and have passion for because there, is where you are going to get the best out of you. Work as much as you can, and if you fall, just stand up again and keep on pushing. Know that the real and most amazing things are the more difficult ones to get. Never let anyone to get in your way, or tell you that you can’t do it. If you want it, go and get it. And especially BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!!!! Thank a lot for this great opportunity and support.
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